What is Waterlife Recovery East: a mink free East Anglia (WRE for short)?2020-09-02T11:38:22+00:00

WRE is a nature conservation project. It’s aim is to protect native wildlife such as water voles, kingfishers and other waterbirds, fish, amphibians and large invertebrates from predation by American mink across a vast area of Eastern England. If the project achieves its objective of removing mink from this region, it is hoped that the operation will then be rolled out across the rest of Great Britain. If this is achieved, a mink-free GB will also mean protection for seabird islands and an end to the constant need to control mink in hundreds of locations as is currently practiced.

What are mink and how did they get here?2020-09-02T11:39:45+00:00

The American mink is a fearless, predatory mammal in the same family as stoats and otters. They are semi-aquatic, with partially webbed feet, and are normally found close to rivers, drainage ditches and lakes or in coastal habitats. Mink are typically about 50 – 60cm long and weigh 0.7 – 2 kg, with males up to twice the weight of females. Mink were first introduced into Britain from North America for fur farming in the 1920s. The industry expanded as the fashion for luxurious fur coats grew, and by the 1950s mink farms were active over most of Britain and on some larger offshore islands. But not all the mink stayed in farms. Many escaped, and hundreds more were released into the wild by well-meaning but misguided ‘animal liberationists’. By the time mink farms were banned in Britain, feral mink had become firmly established in waterways across most of England, Wales and Scotland. Most feral mink now resemble the wild animals found in America, with a dark chocolate brown coat and white throat patch, but a small minority are lighter in colour due to selective breeding by the mink farms from which they originated. Our most similar native animal is the Polecat, which is a similar size and shape to mink, but has a browner fur and a distinctive ‘bandit’ face mask and white ear tips.

Why are mink a problem?2020-09-02T11:41:12+00:00

Like so many animal and plant species that have been introduced to Britain by humans, mink have thrived here because, compared to home, they have fewer competitors, predators and diseases to keep their population in check. Also in their favour is that many native birds and mammals here have evolved in the absence of a web-footed predator that has a taste for a broad range of prey, so they are vulnerable to being eaten by this relative newcomer. Some of our most cherished wildlife, like kingfishers and sand martins, fall victim to mink, but the creature to have suffered most is the water vole – ‘Ratty’ of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. Over 95% of Britain’s water voles have been lost in recent decades, and research has shown that mink are the single most significant cause of this catastrophic decline.

Can we be sure that native wildlife will recover if mink disappear?2020-09-02T11:42:09+00:00

Thanks to the work of conservation volunteers and professionals in many parts of Britain, we now know that, yes, water voles and birds quickly rebound after mink have been removed. Getting rid of introduced, invasive animals like this is one of the best uses of conservation money, and the benefits are usually quickly apparent.

Is it realistic to think we can remove mink from such a large area?2020-09-02T11:43:11+00:00

Yes, we know this to be a realistic prospect because something similar has been done in mainland Scotland, and over an equally huge area. It would be a massive challenge, but could be achieved with a sound plan, adequate resources of money and time, and a can-do attitude. This would be community-based nature conservation on a ground-breaking scale.

How are mink removed from the countryside?2020-09-02T11:44:04+00:00

Mink are inquisitive, and research has shown that they find it hard to resist investigating a tunnel, especially if the tunnel is floating on a raft. If a cage trap is placed in the tunnel, any visiting mink is likely to go inside and be caught when the trap door closes. The traps are equipped with an electronic alarm unit which immediately alerts nominated people (usually conservation-minded volunteers) to the fact that the trap requires an urgent visit. One advantage of this capture method is that the animal in the trap is unharmed, and can be quickly released if it is anything except a mink. If a mink has triggered the trap, it is instantly and humanely dispatched with an air gun.

Why East Anglia?2020-09-02T11:44:42+00:00

Although mink control has been carried out in many parts of Britain, East Anglia has arguably the most comprehensive and well-established network of volunteers to carry out a regional trial on this scale. Also, the fact that the three large counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are situated on what amounts to a large peninsula jutting out into the North Sea means that mink cannot invade from the North and East.

But couldn’t mink invade East Anglia from the rest of England?2020-09-02T11:45:19+00:00

Yes, mink do travel large distances, especially along rivers, so it is likely that they currently enter this region from the West on a daily basis. If this movement is not stopped, mink would certainly persist and the project would fail. Fortunately, though, it is possible to catch mink as they travel along rivers and drainage channels, so the immigration could be snuffed out by establishing enough mink rafts in the right places.

Are other creatures or the environment negatively impacted by this project?2020-09-02T11:45:59+00:00

This methodology allows the eradication of mink to be as ‘surgical’ as possible; no other creatures are significantly affected. Better still, no toxins are involved, as they would be in a rodent eradication operation, for example, so the environmental impact is solely positive.

What about animal welfare?2020-09-02T11:46:40+00:00

Animal welfare must be exemplary in a project like this, and is one of the major reasons for carrying out the work. Due to human actions, introduced mink have killed millions of native animals in Britain, causing pain and suffering to each prey creature they attack. The WRE project aims to bring an end to this carnage. But the respect for animal welfare must extend as much to the predator as the prey, and the electronic alarms fitted to our traps ensure that this project will exceed the standards of welfare rightly demanded by the Westminster, Welsh and Scottish Governments for trapping operations. Under current regimes, over a thousand mink are killed annually in Britain, and if nothing changes, this will continue indefinitely as nature reserve managers, game and fishing organisations continue to protect their sites from mink, which will continue to invade from the unmanaged population of mink in the wider countryside. A short-term increase in mink trapping, using a more effective large-scale approach, will result in far fewer mink deaths overall and a permanent end to the need for mink culling.